Thinking about Monster Mugabe and Mad Mahmoud’s homophobia that gets them frothing at the mouth – could it be fear that does it do you suppose? – started me thinking about all the different phobias humans suffer. I’m not too bad on heights and I revel in wide open spaces but, on the other hand, placid Taurian though I am, I do have a phobia in that I’m scared to death of enclosed spaces; that is I suffer from claustrophobia. The picture of how mental patients used to be confined in a sort of flat cage in which they were unable to move fills me with horror and even the thought of not being able to use my arms causes a shudder. Although as a child I went through the Cango Caves in South Africa and even on a school field trip went down a coal mine with no problem, today I wouldn’t be able to go down that coal mine or go potholing for example for all the money in the world.
Apart from the obvious phobias, why do people get such fixations in life that they behave in the most irrational way, obviously unable to help themselves? For example, stalkers. A Dutch woman who called a man 65,000 times in the past year - an average of 178 calls a day - is to face charges of stalking. The man told police he had been bombarded with calls, texts and emails from the woman. Lawyers say the 42-year-old woman claimed to be in a relationship with the man and denied that her actions were excessive. The 62-year-old man denies that they were in a relationship. The police raided the woman's home in Rotterdam and seized a number of mobile phones and several computers. At a preliminary hearing in The Hague a judge granted the woman bail on the condition that she leave the man alone but just a couple of hours after being released, she allegedly called him again. She has been kept in custody ever since and it was decided three judges should hear the case. A new date for the hearing is yet to be set. Goodness alone knows what her phone bill must have been like. Unlike the stalking of famous people, film stars for example, the man doesn’t appear to be anybody special except in the eyes and mind of his stalker. What would a psychiatrist make of it I wonder?
And here is another one – women who are quite well but believe they need cosmetic surgery on their sexual organs; what has become known as designer vaginas and should they be referred to overstretched (whoops! ) NHS hospitals? Specialists at a Central London teaching hospital say they received 30 such referrals, mainly from family doctors, over the past three years. This included women who mistakenly believe they need surgery and eight schoolgirls - one as young as 11. Bupa says the procedure is purely cosmetic and does not offer financial cover for the procedure. The NHS has no such restriction and it is apparently a boom industry, 2000 procedures being paid for by the NHS each year.
“Dr Sarah Creighton and colleagues believe the future demand for so-called "designer vagina" operations or labial reductions is potentially infinite and is driven by society's wider and growing desire for cosmetic surgery in general and changing expectations about what is a desirable appearance for women. It's shocking, particularly because we are seeing girls who are really young. They are asking for surgery that is irreversible and we do not know what the long-term risks of the procedure might be. That's probably just the tip of the iceberg. It's a massive boom industry in the private sector." In a study, they reviewed 33 women referred to their clinic between 2007 and 2010 with requests for a labial reduction. Most of the women were seeking help because they were concerned about appearance. Only a fifth wanted the surgery to reduce discomfort. One woman said she felt compelled to have the surgery after seeing a television programme on cosmetic genital surgery. On examination by the doctors, all of the women were deemed to have "normal" genitalia, but three were offered surgery to address "a significant asymmetry". The remaining 30 were refused any procedure at all.